It’s my recurring nightmare: returning to eighth grade.
I needed nine lives when I was in eighth grade. Let’s recap.
We’re introduced to Kayla Day (Elsie Fisher) in her final week of eighth grade. She posts motivational videos on YouTube to try and encourage other young people to be open, courageous, and confident. But she doesn’t seem to take her own advice. She also pines to be a member of the cool-kids-club and wants to be Aiden’s best girl. But does she know what price it will cost her?
Her father Mark (Josh Hamilton) is a single dad and worries about Kayla. She’s in a stage of development where she outwardly rejects Mark’s help while inwardly she is struggling to feel accepted. Kayla has a crush on a teenage boy in her class named Aiden (Luke Prael), who asks her to text him naked pics. She’s also asked to a girl named Olivia’s (Emily Robinson) birthday party, where she feels totally out of place.
Scott, this is a wonderful story of a young girl’s emergence from childhood into young adulthood. She has all the issues young girls face including body image and fitting in. It seems like it would be a great “love letter” to girls of a certain age. But it is awkwardly rated “R” – which means that the young girls who might most benefit from the film’s message won’t get to see it.
Aside from allusions to oral sex and the appearance of a dildo, there really isn’t anything overtly racey in this movie. In fact, for me, it felt very much like a sugar-coated version of reality you might have seen in the 1970’s “After School Specials” (I had a similar view of The Edge of Seventeen). In particular, Kayla makes friends with some high school seniors and finds herself in the backseat of a car with a sexually aggressive young man. It’s scary scene for Kayla, but it’s not nearly as scary as what goes on in real life.
Greg, I agree. Eighth Grade is a tough film to watch if only because it reminds us all of the awkwardness of being an early teen. Most of us know what it’s like to be Kayla. She is dripping with early teen angst and insecurity regarding her physical appearance, her friendships, her desire for romance, and her relationship with her dad. Belying this insecurity are her self-help YouTube videos that offer cogent advice which she should heed herself. Kayla is navigating through a complex period of development during an era in which people are more preoccupied with their electronic devices than they are anything or anyone else. This makes her ability to absorb life-lessons far more tenuous, even perilous.
What makes Eighth Grade an effective movie is the fact that it is hard to watch from both the child’s perspective and the father’s perspective. Most viewers have long since outgrown Kayla’s awkward stage of life, yet her earnest sincerity is so endearing that pain of her failures still sting. The many traps she falls into and mistakes she makes are understandable and (for the most part) unavoidable, and we can relate to her father’s desire to help her when he knows that he can do little else except be there for her when she falls. Eighth Grade is very real, very painful, and yet tells a redeeming story of growth through pain and error. In this sense it is a classic hero’s journey of transformative development.
Eighth Grade is a welcome addition to films about growing up as a young girl in modern times. While in my estimation is is a simplistic view of the real world, I believe it shines a light on the challenges of growing up while at the same time offering the encouragement that “it gets better.” And although the “R” rating means that the young women who might benefit from the film won’t see it in theaters, I have a strong suspicion that it will find audience in streaming downloads. I give Eighth Grade 4 out of 5 Reels.
Kayla is the classic “unreliable narrator” in that she gives sage advice to her YouTube audience, but can’t seem to weave that advice into her own life. As a hero, she has many sympathetic qualities that draw us to her: honesty, earnestness, kindness and naivete. And her character avoids the “Mary Sue” trope as she has all the awkward physicality of a teen girl and is filled with angst as she “burns her hopes and dreams.” I give Kayla 4 out of 5 Heroes.
There are number of tropes or archetypes present including the MEAN GIRLS, HOT BOY, DATE RAPE, and of course HELPLESS DAD. I give them all 3 out of 5 Arcs.
Eighth Grade is a film about what is perhaps the most painful period in a person’s life, the awkward transition from innocent child to jaded adult. Elsie Fisher does a phenomenal job of capturing the angst and suffering associated with navigating through this rough time in human development. The story also has some nice messages about the dangers of technology and the damaging effects of social media on young people’s psyche. I give this movie 4 Reels out of 5.
Kayla’s hero’s journey is powerful. She passes through all of the stages of Joseph Campbell’s class hero’s quest, as she leaves the safe familiar world of innocent childhood and enters the dangerous unfamiliar world of adult-like relationships, sexuality, and friendships. Kayla’s heroic transformation from an insecure child into a self-confident and more self-aware near-adult is moving to witness. I give her 4 Hero points out of 5.
I agree with your archetypes, Greg, and I’ll add the awkward teen and the male version of the temptress. You’re right that these archetypes earn a total of 3 Arcs out of 5.